‘This is our documentary on the crisis we face’: Rohingya smartphone photographers | Global Development


JA budget smartphone camera has become a way for many Rohingya people stuck in Bangladesh’s refugee camps to tell their own stories, capturing photos of their lives in the camps, which have become the largest in the world. when 700,000 people fled Myanmar’s army five years ago. , joining the 300,000 who had already sought refuge across the border.

These photographers, who are all under 30, are taking stock of the culture and traditions they fear losing so far from home, and have honed their skills through floods, fires and other times too frequent crises.

Their photographs have featured in international media and photography competitions. Sahat Zia Hero, one of many Rohingya photographers, published a book of his own work called Rohingyatography last year and followed it up by helping to create a magazine that publishes photos of other people he meets in the camps.

Sahat Zia Hero

  • Zaudha, 40, looks at the smoldering remains of her home after the biggest of the camp fires, in March 2021, when 50,000 people lost their homes. The smoke and heat were still too intense for her to descend to the exact place where she lived.

Until 2012, I studied at Sittwe University in Rakhine State. I had to ask for papers and permits from the government to go to checkpoints where they only searched Muslims. Even at university, I was discriminated against by students and even teachers. They hated us Rohingya.

When the riots happened, the violence meant there was no more education for the Rohingya. As I was returning to my village, I was detained for three days and beaten by the police. I didn’t leave after that. I supported my father by fishing, but I also bought a smartphone and a computer and that’s when I started my photography. It was illegal for us to own them, but I used them in the jungle, learning them from YouTube videos that I streamed using the Bangladeshi internet service at the border.

Rohingya refugees try to put out a fire that broke out in Kutupalong in July 2021 using pieces of wood and bamboo.  A photograph of Sahat Zia Hero.
Overview of massive flooding in the camps in July 2021, just days after a fire broke out.  A photograph of Sahat Zia Hero.
Rohingya refugees cross a river inside the camp on a damaged bridge.  A photograph of Sahat Zia Hero.
  • Clockwise from top left: Refugees attempt to put out a fire in Kutupalong using pieces of wood and bamboo, July 2021; flooding in the camps just days after the same fire; Rohingya cross a river inside the camp

We are refugees due to genocide by the army, and now a million Rohingya live in refugee camps. Our goal is to highlight our crisis, to show the international community that genocide and persecution continue even without publicity.

Living in the camps is difficult, especially without education and freedom of movement. The camps are crowded. Nowhere is safe for the Rohingya right now.

The Covid-19 lockdown prevented international journalists from coming to the camps, but it encouraged Rohingya photographers to tell their own stories. Taking and sharing photos is a duty to my people, a way to use my passion for their well-being. It’s the best language – it speaks more than words and shows reality. I want the world to see the Rohingya as human beings, like everyone else, with our hopes and dreams, our sadness, our happiness and our grief.

Find Zia on Instagram @ziahero

As she fled, Ishrat Fori Imran used her phone to capture their escape, carrying whatever she could, through the jungles of Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017.

Ishrat Fori Imran

  • As she fled alongside hundreds of thousands of others in 2017, Ishrat Fori Imran used her phone to capture their escape, carrying whatever she could through the jungle.

I had never touched a smartphone until I passed my school exams in 2017. My brother gave me a smartphone to call my sister in Malaysia, but I thought why not start capturing memories and moments and the beauty of my surroundings. I could keep them in my phone as a story for future generations. Instead, only a few months later we had to leave our house due to military attacks and I took more photos as we escaped through the jungle.

Ishrat Fori Imran's youngest cousin does his ablutions outside his shelter in preparation for his daily prayers
A young Rohingya girl holds her brother as she looks out over the camps that have become her home.  This photo won Oxfam's 2021 Rohingya arts competition.
Monsoon rains prevent Rohingya children from going to school and most spend their time playing outside.  Ishrat Fori Imran found 7-year-old Kazawli soaking wet and sheltering from the heavy rain outside her tent.
A Rohingya boy relishes the monsoon rain, dancing while showering in water falling from a shelter.

Now I take pictures because it brings me joy – it can swing my mood from sadness to happiness. If I ever feel depressed or anxious, I take my camera, because at the moment of taking the picture, I am totally focused on this subject and not on my depression. I can’t really express the pleasure I feel when I share these photos with others, especially when they enjoy them.

I take pictures of everything that interests me – whether it’s animals, people, nature, food or something else; I just took the photo. Everything my eye sees, my camera does too.

Find Ishrat on Twitter: @IshratForiImran

Rohingya return from aid collection points carrying heavy bags of supplies to their shelters

Ro Yassin Abdumonaf

The Rohingya lifestyle, our Myanmar cultural traditions and our creativity – I wanted to capture that, so I started taking photos and videos from inside the refugee camps. It’s my passion to tell the world about our lifestyle, so everywhere I go in the camps, I use my phone to take pictures.

I take pictures of Rohingya children, shelters, artwork, flowers, cultural traditions and also the crises we face in the camps, such as landslides, floods and fires. Although a few other Rohingyas don’t like having their photos taken for their privacy, most are genuinely interested in photography and what we do by sharing it with the world.

Eight members of this family of 12 have been infected with dengue fever and are recovering in their shelter.
Rohingya workers help maintain infrastructure and hygiene in the camp by performing vital tasks like cleaning up rubbish
Some idle Rohingya children next to a concere drainage system near their shelters designed to help drain water during heavy rains.
The solitary banyan tree that towers over and provides shade to the shelters around it can be seen for miles.  Most of the trees were felled to make way for the camps when 700,000 Rohingya quickly arrived in 2017.
  • Clockwise from top left: A family recovering from dengue fever; Rohingya workers clean up rubbish to help maintain camp infrastructure and hygiene; a solitary banyan tree can be seen for miles. Most of the trees were felled to make way for the camps in 2017; a concrete drainage system designed to help drain water away during heavy rains

I am a genocide survivor. I live with my family and we have suffered without freedom, surviving an uncertain future for nearly five years in refugee camps after already facing decades of discrimination and violence in Myanmar.

People are not always able to express their feelings and photography takes courage, but here is our documentary on the crisis we face in these camps.

Find Yassine on Instagram @ro_yassin_abdumonab

A group of Rohingya children play in the pouring rain outside their shelters in Cox's Bazar refugee camps, Bangladesh.

Ro Anamul Hassan

Photography helps us let people know how we suffer. I take pictures of people who are still suffering as they live a life of refuge here. I take photos because I think they can help others understand the subjects of these photos and what they desire.

A group of Rohingya students wear Myanmar school uniforms as they call for justice on the 5th anniversary of the 2017 massacres that drove 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.  Photograph by Anamul Hasan.

It makes me happy to take pictures, and when I want to raise an issue that my community is facing, I always choose to take pictures rather than write because it has a stronger impact on viewers.

Find Ro Anamul on Instagram @roanamul_hasan

A Rohingya man carried his sick mother to a clinic in the camps.

Mayyu Khan

I don’t remember exactly why I got into photography but I loved it from a very young age, even though I only started in 2017, with a small mobile phone. I even started making short films.

A group of Rohingya boys play in a stream next to their shelters after the rains

I love to take pictures and do it as often as possible, especially in nature and on the street, but I have to be careful because of the rules inside the camp – I don’t always feel safe to take photos. pictures here. Most people encourage me, although the reaction is mixed and some wonder if it is useful for me to build a career.

These images capture memories and testimonies, and record our lives for decades and times to come. A special image can help ease the chaos and reveal the unknown. It helps me mentally and also economically, and I can use it to really capture our society. I think these photos will be part of our history.

Find Mayyu on Instagram @mayyu_khan

A group of fishermen returning home after searching for a catch near the Cox's Bazar camps.

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